The next Allen Lazard? Iowa State's Hakeem Butler just trying to be himself
Iowa State wide receiver Hakeem Butler hears often about how he’s expected to fill the shoes of former Cyclones great Allen Lazard.
But Butler isn’t worrying about trying to become the next Lazard.
“I’ve just tried to be myself," said Butler. "The way coach does it, he works around the players he has. He knows I’m not Allen. He knows I’m Hakeem. And he’s going to treat me like Hakeem and not Allen.”
A redshirt junior, Butler is coming off a breakout season in 2017 that saw him rank second on the team in receiving yards (667) and tie for third in receptions (41). Butler also grabbed seven touchdown passes.
Butler, who had redshirted his first season and caught just nine passes in 2015, became one of the surprise stories for the Cyclones and one of the best wide receivers on the team. The only pass-catcher more productive than Butler last season? Lazard, who led the team with 71 receptions for 941 yards and 10 touchdowns.
But with Lazard off to the NFL, Iowa State has to find a way to replace some of his production. That’s where the 6-foot-6, 225-pound Butler comes in.
“He’s made some huge strides,” Iowa State quarterback Kyle Kempt said of Butler. “He’s really settled into that role as that No. 1 receiver. He’s done a lot of great things. I think he’s really accepted that challenge when Allen left and he’s done a phenomenal job with it.”
Butler understands why the comparisons to Lazard keep coming up.
“I hear it a lot,” he said. “I understand it. The man was ridiculous. So, I understand it. He left a lot of the balls out there to be caught so we’ve got to go get it.”
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As crazy as it sounds, Butler might just be scratching the surface of what he can do. With Lazard, Marchie Murdock and Trever Ryen all gone, more passes will be coming his way. And Butler said he’s more than ready.
Butler said he worked in the offseason with Kempt. The two spent time in the team’s practice facility with Kempt throwing to him day after day. When they weren’t doing that, the two were watching film and hanging out. Butler said they bonded together watching the NBA Finals.
“It was a little bit heated in there because he was going for Lebron,” Butler said.
All the hard work the two put in together appears to be paying off.
“If you look all through camp, the balls that we were completing, we weren’t completing them in spring,” Butler said. “And then in camp, they started flowing.”
That’s good news for Iowa State and for Butler, who like Lazard, has NFL aspirations. In fact, after his strong 2017 season, Butler asked NFL scouts for feedback on what he needs to work on to improve his draft stock.
“Just consistency,” Butler said. “It’s one year and we see what happens when players have one year and try to leave — it doesn’t really translate to the NFL. So just being consistent and just catching balls.”
Though Butler’s breakout season surprised many, he realizes the secret is out and now opposing defenses will be keeping close tabs on him.
“After awhile I was seeing double teams in the slot, so I don’t think much is going to change,” Butler said.
Butler also refuses to let the success of last year go to his head. He said he's hungry to surprise people again.
“I’ve just got to come every day with the mindset to work and just be ready for everything,” Butler said.